If it’s not hard news, it’s a good and an important story to tell. If it doesn’t have a major impact on national economies or foreign affairs, it certainly makes all the difference in the world to at least a few.
The week-long national holiday, in honor of the May 1st International Workers’ Day provided me an opportunity to get out of the city – while Kunming is a great place, it is by no means typifies life for the people of China. A friend of mine, Mr. Howard, is involved in developing education and building schools in rural Yunnan Province. There are many places that have not reaped rewards from the rapid economic and social development that urban centers have seen in recent years. Especially in some of the areas with a high concentration of minorities, poverty and a lack of infrastucture is depriving many of the opportunities that come from education, advanced health care, and other resources.
The town of LULA
One of Mr. Howard’s largest projects has been centered in the small village of Lula, very near the Myanmar border in the Southern Yunnan district of Xi Shuang Banna. The village, the dirt road to which has only recently been completed, hosts a beautiful elementary school complex, and draws students from many of the small villages in the area. The new school boasts facilities that are quite rare, relative to other schools in rural Yunnan, such as running water in a clean bathroom, comfortable dormitories, and consistent electricity.
Lula is remote enough that the arrival of a foreigner is very much a novel experience. Curiousity trumped the apprehension of these students at the elementary school, who could not resist a closer look at the amazing prominence of Wisconsin-grown body hair.
Besides checking on the progress of the school in Lula and planning the next phase of the project (a new dining hall for the students, for example), the trip was also an opportunity to bring a few of the students to the district capitol to recievce medical treatment that they don’t have access to in the rural areas.
After conferences with the parents, we, several children, their fathers, and some of the teachers from the school, made the dusty trip back to JingHong, the capitol of the Xi Shuan Banna district. Several children had their eyes checked and one student will come back to the hospital for more tests on his ears, with the possibility of getting a hearing aid. Putting his glasses on for the first time, the face of one boy lit up, seeing the world in a whole new way.
The fathers waited patiently at the hospital, perhaps feeling more out of place than they looked in the city of JingHong, so different from the small villages in which they work so hard every day.
More to Come!